J&J’s recent announcement that it is filing a civil suit against the American Red Cross (ARC) has been likened by some in the blogger world to “kicking babies” (see “Trademark Law Gone Mad“). At issue is J&J’s claim of “unauthorized” licensing of the famous symbol by ARC to third-party, for-profit organizations selling products like baby mitts, nail clippers, combs, toothbrushes and humidifiers

Criticism of J&J’s action is also rampant in the Pharma Blogosphere (see “Blogger Brouhaha Over the Cross“):

“About the most foolish PR move by any drug company this year..Or is it the worst move in a decade???,” said Peter Rost (NRx Blog).

“This can’t be a good public relations move,” said Ed Silverman at Pharmalot.

“There are times when even the most fertile imagination would have trouble concocting fiction stranger than business reality,” according to Scott Hensley at WSJ Health Blog.

“…will bring plenty of short-term odium,” said Steve Woodruff over at Impactiviti blog.

The sad fact is, no matter what the legal basis for this action is, J&J has allowed its legal department to outweigh its good public relations by acting independently and seemingly catching the J&J corporate communications department off-guard and on vacation.

“Our small media relations group was reduced even further by summer vacations,” claimed Ray Jordan, pinch-hit blogger over at J&J’s JNJ BTW blog. He is filling in for Marc Monseau, Director of Media Relations, who is on vacation.

“Lawyers gone wild” is the only way to explain why this suit would be announced when key PR people are out of the loop!

We may see more lawyers going wild in pharmaceutical companies in the future. Lawyers are ascending the corporate ladders of many big pharma companies: This July, Merck announced the promotion of corporate counsel Kenneth Frazier to succeed Peter Loescher as president, global human health, “effectively making him the company’s chief operating officer,” according the “Industry Veteran” over at The Health Care Blog (see “Time to get Shakespearean at big Pharma?“)

“Given Pfizer’s earlier decision to make their corporate counsel, Jeffrey Kindler, the CEO there, Frazier’s promotion means two Big Pharma companies within the past year have elevated lawyers to key, strategic positions. The moves in both cases indicate the unwillingness of the respective companies to cleanly break from the unsavory and dysfunctional practices of their recent past.”

Lawyers have long been involved in writing those “brief summaries” that befuddle consumers trying to read up about the drugs they are taking (see “Future of Drug Print Ads“).

Can J&J Regain Lost Goodwill?
Pharmaceutical companies need to protect its assets like patents and trademarks. But these tangible assets need to be balanced against intangible assets like goodwill and its employees.

I can only imagine how much goodwill J&J has lost over this issue.

Johnson & Johnson has had a lock on first place for corporate reputation in the Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive corporate reputation study since the survey began in 1999. Every year, J&J successfully “dodged the bullets fired at other pharmaceutical companies. It scored well for the quality of its products and for emotional appeal because of people’s warm feelings about its baby-products business. It also received the highest scores for being ethical and trustworthy. J&J ‘is as American as Mom and apple pie,’ one respondent commented,” according to the WSJ.

My mom, rest her soul, would NEVER have sued the American Red Cross!

I am sure many employees at J&J are also thinking the same thing. J&J’s action has minimized their employees generous donations to this charity. So, not only do the J&J PR people have to deal with us bloggers and journalists, they also need to work with their employees. My advice, as always, is to give your employees a voice in your blog. Let us hear their honest comments about this issue.

Disclaimer: I have had a number of unofficial conversations with Marc Monseau about his blog and the company’s social media communications strategy, but none on this subject.

Point-Counter Point: Monseau vs. Mack!
Marc Monseau and I will be debating the use of Web 2.0 technology (eg, blogging) by pharmaceutical companies at the Digital Pharma Conference on October 24, 2007 in Princeton, NJ.

Here are the particulars:

Why Pharma Should Embrace Web 2.0 vs. Why The Industry Should Play it Safe and Hold Off for Now

Join a pharmaceutical industry corporate communications manager and an industry blogger in a debate of the issues surrounding the use of Web 2.0 technology — blogs, social networks, other user-generated content sites — by the pharmaceutical industry for marketing, corporate communications, and public relations purposes.

  • Taking the Point is John Mack, a well-known publisher and blogger in the Pharma Blogosphere™, who argues that it is time for pharmaceutical companies to use the new Web 2.0 tools available to improve its marketing and public image.
  • The Counter Point position is taken by Marc Monseau, Director of Media Relations at Johnson & Johnson, who will discuss the regulatory, legal and other concerns that require a cautious approach to use of Web 2.0 by Pharma.